Three soldiers killed in Afghan blast

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The Independent Online

Three British soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan today, taking the total UK death toll in the troubled country to 199.

The servicemen, two from 2nd Battalion The Rifles and the third from 40 Regiment Royal Artillery, were hit by an explosion while on a foot patrol near Sangin in Helmand Province today.

Their families have been informed.

All three soldiers were serving with the Rifles Battlegroup.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: "The loss of these brave men, and of all those who have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002, is a tragedy.

"It brings us very close to the sad milestone of 200 fatalities in this conflict.

"We cannot help but reflect on the toll the mission has taken on our people and their families and friends.

"But we must also keep in the forefront of our minds how important it is to the security of this country and its citizens.

"So many young men and women have been injured or given their lives to ensure that Afghanistan does not fall back into the hands of the extremists and the terrorists who seek to threaten us and our interests.

"We must succeed. And we will."

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "We will all feel the loss of these brave soldiers, but it is their family, friends and loved ones, as well as the men and women who served alongside them, who feel the greatest pain and we offer them our deepest and heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers."

The news was announced as another four UK soldiers killed in Helmand were returned to British soil.

The bodies of Corporal Kevin Mulligan, 26, Lance Corporal Dale Hopkins, 23, Private Kyle Adams, 21, and Private Jason Williams, 23, were flown into RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire this morning.

Hundreds of people turned out to pay their respects as hearses carrying their coffins were driven through nearby Wootton Bassett in what has become a sombre - and all too regular - tradition.

There have been eight British fatalities in Afghanistan this month.

Last month 22 UK servicemen died, the highest total since the mission began in October 2001, as operations were stepped up ahead of presidential and provincial council elections on August 20.

Meanwhile, Dame Vera Lynn questioned today why Britain was involved in the bloody Afghan conflict.

The original Forces' Sweetheart, who is now 92, told The Times: "I don't know what Afghanistan's all about. I don't know what we are doing there."

She said she could understand why so many lives were sacrificed in the Second World War but could not comprehend the strategy in Afghanistan.

"At one time, our soldiers would fight for the country they came from to stop the enemy invading, but now they are involved in other countries' problems," she said.

She added she was still fully supportive of "our boys" despite her reservations.